Born in Virginia. After high school moved to New York City to study art. During World War II, he traveled the world as a newspaper sketch artist.
Nora Panzer, ed. Celebrate America in Poetry and Art (New York and Washington, D.C.: Hyperion Paperbacks for Children in association with the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, 1994)
Although Perlin studied at the New York School of Design and at the National Academy of Design, he said that William Palmer at the Art Students League was the first teacher who made any sense to him. During the war Perlin worked for the graphics division of the Office of War Information along with Ben Shahn, who became a major influence on the young Perlin. He then became an artist-correspondent for Life and later worked for Fortune. In 1946, still under Shahn's influence, Perlin began to paint seriously. Social comment was often implicit in his work at this time, and he was especially concerned with depicting the plight of minority groups and the poor. From 1948 until 1954 he lived in Italy, supported partially by Fulbright and Guggenheim fellowships. His return to the United States marked a change in Perlin's technique and subject matter. Color replaced line as his primary expressive device, and the isolation of the individual became a predominant thematic concern.
Virginia M. Mecklenburg Modern American Realism: The Sara Roby Foundation Collection (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press for the National Museum of American Art, 1987)